The cognitive reorientation of research in simultaneous interpreting

Danica Seleskovitch’s retirement in 1990 paralleled the decline of the Paris School and marked a return to empiricism and a turn to multidisciplinarity that had actually started somewhat earlier, perhaps as far back as 1977 (Gerver & Sinaiko 1978). In 1986—the same year that witnessed the first steps of psycholinguistic approaches to empirical translation research—the SSLMIT from the University of Trieste organized a conference on interpreting (Gran & Dodds 1989) that globally challenged some received views.

The main referential framework was still psycholinguistic within the information-processing paradigm (e.g., Sylvie Lambert, Barbara Moser-Mercer), but the field welcomed back researchers from other areas, such as neuroscience (e.g., Franco Fabbro) and cognitive psychology (e.g., Anette M. B. de Groot, María Teresa Bajo). Some researchers, such as Masaomi Kondo, Robin Setton and Miriam Shlesinger, would combine psychological and linguistic approaches. Hence, the overall tendency was to widen the framework from psychology intoCognitive Science.

Training and quality remained major research topics, but there were new focal points, like directionality, language-specific issues, and cognitive load (e.g., Daniel Gile 1995). Both descriptive or experimental research methods became an important issue, with ecological validity, sample representativeness and the indeterminacy of variables as primary concerns.

Another remarkable feature was that the community of conference interpreting research widened far beyond France and Germany, and became more organized. Trieste started to publish The Interpreter’s Newsletter in 1988, Gile set up the CIRIN Bulletin in 1990, the Interpreting Research Association of Japan (today’s Japan Association of Interpretation Studies) was founded in 1991, and Interpreting published its first issue in 1996. A conference held in Turku in 1994 (Gambier, Gile & Taylor 1997) marked another peak in cognitive and psycholinguistic approaches to conference interpreting.

In June 1995, the first major meeting solely focused on community interpreting (the Critical Link) was held in Canada. The attention of the Interpreting Studies community partially shifted away from both conference interpreting and cognitive approaches. Meanwhile, in translation, cognitive approaches would gain further recognition while they diversified. Let us first address the causes.

Daniel Gile

While a Kuhnian paradigm shift can be said to have occurred in the discipline between the 1980s and the 1990s, the evolution over the past decade or so has been substantial but shows no such discontinuity; changes seem to flow more smoothly as a result of what has become regular interaction between scholars.

Gile (2009: 140)

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